Murder While I Smile

Murder While I Smile by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Murder While I Smile by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Smith
Tags: regency Mystery/Romance
to squeeze money out of the taxpayer.”
    “I was just giving you a notion how unreliable later accounts are,” Prance said, high on his dignity. “It was perfectly clear to me there never was such a thing as a Round Table.”
    “Now, there you’re wrong. My mama has one at home,” Coffen said.
    Prance threw up his hands in defeat. “You are a disgrace to the mother who bore you, Pattle.”
    Coffen’s blue eyes snapped. “I’ll thank you to leave my mama out of this. And besides, she never bores me. She’s dashed interesting. More interesting than your dashed dux bellorum.”
    Corinne darted in to forestall a nasty exchange. “If there was no Round Table, Reg, why did you call your poem the Round Table Rondeaux?
    “It is called a metaphor,” he said icily. “I see you ignored the footnotes.”
    “I hate footnotes,” Coffen muttered into his collar.
    Prance ignored him. “There is no head to a Round Table. It was a meeting of equals, of which Arthur was one, and not a king. He was a dux bellorum. I expect they sat on the ground with a fire in the middle for roasting wild boar. No one mentioned a Round Table before Wace, and that I do know.”
    “Speaking of wild boar, ain’t it time for fork work?” Coffen said, but no one paid him any heed.
    “Well, this is very interesting, Reggie. I’m glad you explained about the metaphor,” Corinne said. “I hope you aren’t going to rob us of the legend of Guinevere and Lancelot.” That, and her feelings for Reggie, were all that kept her plodding through the dreadful book.
    “Why should I drag in that hussy? The real meaning of the work is the search for the Holy Grail. Guinevere was a mere distraction.”
    Coffen scowled. “Then why did you call it a romance of the Middle Ages, raising hopes —”
    “You surely didn’t think I had written a maudlin love story! I meant a romance in the true sense—chivalry, adventure, stirring deeds.”
    “Of course. That was obtuse of you, Coffen,” Corinne said, with a warning look.
    “But you found it interesting?’ Prance asked, turning again to Luten and Corinne.
    “Very interesting,” they both agreed, and could not for the life of them come up with another complimentary adjective. “Scholarly,” Luten finally said in desperation, as Prance was eagerly waiting for more praise.
    “Exactly!” Prance smiled. “I did a deal of research, winnowing the wheat from the chaff.”
    “Superb research,” Luten said. “But perhaps —”
    “I knew there would be a but!”
    “Never mind. It’s nothing.”
    “No, let me hear your thoughts. I want your true opinion.”
    “Perhaps, for nonscholars, you know, a little chaff would have lightened the hard kernels of fact, since it was couched in the poetic idiom. Something to stir the emotions and imagination. Only if you are interested in a wide sale, of course, such as Byron is enjoying.”
    “We who are not so intellectually inclined as you, like a little circus along with our bread,” Corinne ventured.
    “Byron is certainly providing the circus,” Prance snipped.
    And Prance, in her opinion, had provided a great lump of unleavened bread.
    “Here come a couple of likely recipients,” Prance said, as he spotted two bucks walking toward them. Their closely fitting blue jackets, fawn trousers, and sprigged waistcoats proclaimed their status as gentlemen of fashion. Both wore curled beaver hats, York tan gloves, and Hessians.
    The gentlemen were Robert Marchant and Peter Inwood, both MPs holding Tory seats in the House of Commons from rotten boroughs in the West, while endeavoring to win acclaim in Parliament. Marchant was a self-consequential sprig of a noble family, with no title of his own. He was tall and blond, with a voice in training for perorations to his fellow members in the House.
    Inwood was shorter, darker, more handsome, less sure of himself, and more likable. The young men drew to a stop in front of Hatchard’s and were presented to Lady

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